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Infrared Heaters: How Do They Work?

Infrared heat sounds suspiciously like something you learned in your middle school science class, but be prepared for it to make a comeback in your life in a big way. Infrared heat is the newest, most advanced way to heat your home that's quickly increasing in popularity. People are discovering that infrared heat is the safest, cleanest and most efficient way to stay warm.

At first the technology of wavelengths and light spectrums seems complicated enough to fill a textbook. But infrared heat is actually quite easy to comprehend, and knowing how one works will help you decide whether infrared heaters are right for you!

What is Infra Red Heat?

infra red heat light from heater

Infrared heat is light waves that are only visible beyond the spectrum we can see. Heat is a product of that light we can't see. The reason we get warm from infrared heaters is because our skin and clothes absorb the light.

Infrared heat is also called radiant heat because heat naturally radiates out and needs no fans or blowers to distribute the warmth. Air is not warmed at all - infrared radiant heat warms an object directly. Infrared radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation, kind of like radio waves. As an object gets warmer, it produces more infrared radiation at a higher frequency.

The biggest natural source of infrared heat is the sun. Radiant heat is the reason we feel hot under the sun, and cool when sitting in the shade. You feel warm in the sun because the light that hits you keeps you warm, but in the shade the light can't reach you as well.

How Does Infrared Apply to a Heater?

Molecules will absorb infrared at a particular wavelength, and when that absorption happens, it heats the molecules up. An infrared heater can be made to produce the right wavelength for whatever it is designed to heat.

The very particular way infrared heaters heat makes it ideal in some situations and ineffective in others. Infrared heaters are best used in static environments, since only people and objects are being heated in a room, not the environmental air itself. Sitting directly in front of an infrared heater will keep you warm and toasty, but all that heat would disappear immediately if you were to walk around to the back of the heater.

What are the Functions of Infrared Heaters?

Infrared heaters can actually be fine-tuned to heat specific materials. It's common to use infrared heaters in saunas because the heater can be designed with a wavelength that interacts only with water molecules. Infrared heaters in saunas, and heaters used to warm sore muscles (since the human body is mostly made of water) are examples of these extremely efficient types of heaters. Other infrared heaters might be designed to heat a certain type of plastic or metal for industrial purposes - meaning very little heat and energy is wasted.

To make infrared heaters somewhat more versatile, some infrared heaters have blowers or oscillate, so they distribute the heat produced more widely. These types of infrared heaters are made for home use, and are probably the types of space heaters you will encounter that use infrared technology. Space heaters that heat only through simple radiation and don't use blowers at all still usually have more than enough power to heat a decently sized room.

What are the Different Types of Infrared Heaters?

infra red heater in home

Infrared heaters come in a variety of types and materials, and are designed for either outdoor or indoor use. They can be fueled by electric, propane or natural gas, and are made out of metals or plastics. Some are designed to be permanently installed and others are made to be portable for use in multiple rooms.

If you plan on heating a bedroom, living room or other indoor space with an infrared heater, you will want a model that is compact, portable and uses electricity to operate. Propane and natural gas models need some sort of ventilation because of the emissions they produce, so those infrared heaters must be used outdoors.

Most infrared heaters use an internal heating element like quartz to run. Quartz infrared heaters use a tungsten or copper wire contained in a quartz crystal tube. Electricity passes through the wire and the wire generates large amounts of heat. The heat trapped inside the quartz tube gets hotter still, and as the heat rises, infrared heat is emitted from the heating element into the room.

What are the Advantages of Infra Red Heaters?

Since infrared heaters do not heat the air, they are the perfect heaters for warming areas with little to no insulation - such as the outdoors or a drafty room. Here are some other advantages of an infrared heater:

  • Safe to use with children or pets - some grills will stay cool to the touch when in use
  • No fans mean the infrared heater will run completely silently and won't dry out the air
  • Most units have variable heat settings or an automatic thermostat for customizable comfort
  • Infrared heaters are almost 100% efficient and give off no air pollutants or toxins
  • The most powerful units warm up to 1000 sq. ft. and plug into a standard outlet
  • Ideal for spot heating so you can feel the difference in temperature instantly
  • Higher end units have a remote control, built-in air freshener and/or humidifier
  • Small, compact designs can look contemporary or blend in with traditional furnishings

Are Infrared Heaters For Me?

Infrared heaters make you feel warmer instantly. If you're looking for an electric model for indoor use in your living room or bedroom, check to see how many volts and watts an electric infrared heater uses and compare it to other models for perspective. Also check out the maximum operating temperatures.

Infrared heaters are great for allergy sufferers because they don't contribute any emissions into the atmosphere they heat. Many brands also claim their electric infrared heaters won't take out any oxygen or humidity from the air.

While infrared heaters can be a way to cut down on winter heating costs, they don't completely eliminate the need for central heating. Infrared heaters aren't meant to heat your entire home, especially for long periods of time. The best way to use your infrared space heater is to turn down the central thermostat and use the space heater to heat an individual room or space that you're using (since chances are you're not using every single room in the house).

Here's a simple way to calculate an infrared heater's energy use:

(Watts of Heater x Hours Used Per Day) ?? 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-Hour (kWh) Consumption

Daily kWh x Rate (cost per kilowatt given to you by your utility company) = The cost of running your appliance

If you use your infrared heater as a source of supplemental heat, you should see your winter heating bills lower. Although the money you save won't be life-changing, those few dollars will add up over time, and before you know it your heater will have paid for itself!

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